Foreign Secretary announces UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict without really explaining how

As part of the UK’s forthcoming Presidency of the G8 in 2012, Foreign Secretary William Hague has announced a UK initiative on preventing sexual violence in conflict.

I know this is the type of policy update folks would expect me to be ecstatic over. But I have to admit I’m sitting on the fence about this one.

Foreign Secretary speech

Namely because, after scrutinising the press release from the Foreign Commonwealth Office beyond the headline, I just don’t see much on how this initiative aims to focus on prevention. And it drives me crazy when programmes (good or not) do not accurately describe what they’re doing and why.

In the press release, the closest line of logic I can find linked to ‘prevention’ is

And we want to see a significant increase in the number of successful prosecutions so that we erode and eventually demolish the culture of impunity.

So maybe the connection to prevention is:

demolishing the culture of impunity towards wartime sexual violence –> less rape in ongoing and future conflicts

That seems really nice. I am all about breaking down impunity. Just given the complicated structural factors and causes of wartime rape, it seems like a very distant outcome. Especially when considering that the majority of the work proposed for the initiative is aimed at gathering evidence and testimony to support investigations, capacity building for national authorities on legal frameworks and campaigning on the need for stronger international response on sexual violence during war.

Again, those are all fantastic things for to incorporate as part of the UK’s lead on the G8. It’s just painfully obvious to me that responding to sexual violence after the fact is not the same as preventing it in the first place.  I’d be a bajillion times happier with the headline:

Foreign Secretary announces UK initiative on preventing convicting sexual violence in conflict

Let’s not get sloppy with our language just because it sounds nicer to ‘prevent’ rape during war. Rounding up to a future impact dilutes the fact that increasing conviction and prosecution rates are major victories in themselves.


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